The human side of defending victims

Without doubt, Olga Silva is a dedicated social fighter, with a genuine conviction for defending human rights.  In her eyes and her actions she reflects a desire and motivation to take part in building a county where full guarantees are possible and peace can be built with social justice.  She is a person who expresses herself firmly and clearly in court, speaking for the victims and representing them with a feeling of empathy that is truly admirable.  Outside the courts, Olga is approachable, interested in the issues people bring to her, showing a human side with a warm and affectionate way of dealing with people.

She is Olga Silva, a Colombian woman whose vocation is to defend human rights.  She is a lawyer by profession, and the current director of the organisation Humanidad Vigente.  The human rights organisation’s main work is the fight against impunity, with a particular emphasis on children, women and the defence of land, which includes a lot of work with small-scale farmers and indigenous people living in rural parts of Colombia. They are sectors of the population that have suffered from displacement to an undeniable extent in different areas of the country and the reason for which Humanidad Vigente was initially created.

For Olga, coming from a childhood in the countryside where there were different situations of state abandonment and where basic needs were left unmet, meant getting to know a context which profoundly marked her life.  Acting on that motivation, she found an academic position in the National University, and built on the experience she gained as an academic working with low income families in literacy programmes.

The work she does requires a close and careful approach to cases of human rights violations, where the pain is more present than ever and where the social fabric is extremely damaged, which has created a series of consequences for the lawyer on an emotional level. In her words:

“Every case is painful, every case is a tragedy and behind every one of them there are more tragedies”.

Without doubt, one of the most significant cases in national terms, because of the nature of the facts (not just for Olga Silvia and Humanidad Vigente), was the sentence of 60 years given to an Army Lieutenant for the case known as ‘The children of Tame’. [1]  The sentence was issued in 2012, confirmed in 2013 and ratified in August 2014. [2]

The Lieutenant was condemned for raping 13 and 14 year old girls and for killing one of them along with her two brothers, aged 9 and 6 years old. The facts occurred in October 2010, in a rural part of Tame municipality (Arauca).

For Olga, the impact of this case is due to different factors.  First is the calculated brutality of what happened, second is her situation as a mother and the natural empathy this generates; and third, the serious threats that she suffered throughout the case, the purpose of which was to attack the integrity and dignity of women:

“There were situations of threats, like the assassination of the judge who had been due to start the trial.  As part of that, as a lawyer and defender I got death threats to my phone where they said they were going to sexually assault me and I believe that, sure, all of this generates many situations which destabilise you emotionally…”

This case was, and continues to be, of great importance at a national and international level, as well as being emblematic.  This is particularly so in a country where there is 98% of impunity for cases of sexual violence against women.[3]

It is a job that without doubt carries with it a high risk, but that does not stop the work done by human rights defenders, like Olga Silva.[4]



[1] Maximum sentence in Colombia and the second time it had been applied.

[2] El Tiempo: En firme, condena a teniente (r) Muñoz por crimen de niños de Tame, 12 August 2014

[3] Contagio Radio: Ante la CIDH se denunció 98% de impunidad en casos de violencia sexual en Colombia, 22 October 2015

[4]To find out more about Olga Silva, watch the interview made by PBI Colombia in: PBI Colombia: “Detrás de cada caso hay más tragedias”. 03 March 2015

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